Themes and Characters

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Last Updated on May 18, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 686

Some critics have noted that one of Peck's greatest strengths as a writer is his ability to create diverse yet believable and credible characters. In the three-year span of Remembering the Good Times, Peck shows this strength and is able to develop his characters and to plant the subtle clues of Trav's depression and eventual suicide. Buck, the teller of the story, is a male character with deep feelings and emotions. Although Buck and his down-to-earth Dad live a fairly spartan existence in the trailer, he seems to cope very well with all the problems that confront teenage boys. In comparison, while Trav seems to have all the advantages that affluent, successful parents can give their child, he feels an intense pressure to succeed and seems unable to accept any faults within himself. Through Buck's eyes, the reader sees Trav from the outside with only occasional glimpses of the doubt, depression, and other troubles that are hidden beneath the brilliant exterior.

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Remembering the Good Times also has two strong female characters. In contrast to Buck and Trav, Kate appears to be the leader of the group. Mature and independent, she has had to cope with the flamboyant lifestyle of her mother, deal with economic problems, and take care of Polly Prior. She is the one who plans Mr. Slater's revenge on Skeeter and who makes everyone, including Polly, help her rehearse for the play. Kate's great grandmother Polly claims to be the third-oldest and the meanest woman in Slocum Township and is a "demon" at Monopoly and cards. After the tragedy, while the parents blame the school and the school blames the parents, it is Polly's speech at the public meeting that finally helps Kate and Buck begin to accept Trav's death.

Remembering the Good Times has interrelated themes. While the book deals with a great tragedy, there are also scenes of joy and even comedy which point out the theme of friendship. Although Kate, Buck, and Trav come from different backgrounds, they have formed close bonds which they hope will carry them throughout the trials of growing up. Polly, a representative of a previous generation, joins in that friendship. However, it may be that precisely because of that closeness, Polly, Buck, and Kate are unable or unwilling to recognize the trouble under the calm surface of Trav. Also in this work is the disintegration of a community and family and a mourning for a vanishing way of life. Although Polly provides a link back to a time of "old-fashioned values," even she does not recognize the seriousness of Trav's problems in time. The Kirbys, focused on their own lives, see only the success in their son. To Trav, even school is a wasteland where he is not being challenged and not being prepared to deal with the problems in life that he sees arising throughout the world. Without the support of his family, failed by the school, pressured by the expectations of others, and burdened by the demands that he places upon himself, Trav believes that the only solution lies within himself. As the community declines even more and the pear orchard is bulldozed by the developers, Trav chooses suicide to relieve his despair. Peck seems to believe that people have a need for both community and communication in their lives. A lack of communication in Trav's family leads, in part, to his isolation from his parents. However, a lack of community is also to blame for Trav's suicide. As Polly points out, there is a need for everyone—parents, teachers, students— to communicate and to become a community that cares about its members. It may be difficult to understand why Trav, who seems to have it all, would take his life. But it is just that calmness in the plot and the lack of sensationalism that makes the novel and its characters so real. All of this adds up to what Peck himself claims to have as the only theme in his young adult novels: That is the need for young adults to break away from the group and to think and act independently.

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